I miss the sound of The Tongan Congregation of Kahuku United Methodist Church. Once a week, you could hear them practicing and their voices would carry on the wind to our front yard. Once a month, we would have combined services for communion and although I could never understand what they were saying, I could feel it. It was powerful and so full of conviction. I have not heard them for a very long time and I miss it. I left the Methodist Church soon after my grandmother passed away and so did my family. I didn’t belong to a place of Worship for over a decade. Though my parents and siblings found new congregations, I chose to attend the church of myself. It’s common for most individuals to spend some part of their life, living for themselves. I know I am not the only one. My church was a bar, a night club, a social event, my apartment, any place that made me feel good. I worshipped different spirits. I spent a good amount of time paying my respects to Vodka, Midori, sometimes Rum, Crown, Wine, Hypnotiq, Bud Light – well, I guess I worshipped many idols. It all depended on how I felt at the time, clear liquor was more calming and brown liquor brought out some aggression. I did cut back on brown liquor though. In church we would break the bread in remembrance of Christ but in the church of self, I broke open my body for the indulgence of the flesh and drank from the cup of pleasure. It was fun, I am not going to lie.
I made a different sound during this time of my life. It was loud and upbeat, it served its purpose of attracting others along for the ride. It was great, but it wasn’t meant for me, forever. You can only last so long, making a loud sound, before you lose your breath and start to fall apart. In the church of self, there is only one person trying to do it all. It is incredibly tiring, but I didn’t want anyone’s help, I was independent, I was living life on my terms, I was free from the constraints of religion and I was living my truth. As an individual it was important that my sound was heard above everything else, I was entitled to it. Anything else, would be discrimination. My individual sound was more important than yours. Yet, it wasn’t sustainable. I see people I knew when I was living the way I did, and some are still in it. I have no room to judge them, but I can see the exhaustion in their face, on their hands and deep within their eyes. The embrace of addiction, lust, pride and selfishness creates a false sense of security that all is well, that you are maintaining your sound but in fact, it’s killing you. We were not made to worship in the church of self, to live as a one-man or one-woman congregation. We may fill our lives with other people but still we stand alone because our sound, we want our sound to be heard above anything else. I have been there. My offense led me there, but my pride set roots in it. It is like being a tree in the desert, trying to survive every day and hoping to attract people in search of water but being unable to provide a drop of it when they arrive. We are not meant to live that way. We were created to thrive, to love and encourage others to thrive with us. We can’t give what we don’t have, because it’s tied up in proving who we are.
I couldn’t do it any more, I had no sound left but I tried to fight it. I tried to maintain my place in the desert because although it didn’t look good, it felt good. We thrive on feelings. I found myself in my mid 30’s moving back home with my parents and it felt like I was mourning. I had this deep sense of loss because I thought I failed and I was ashamed. I was humbled. Then I heard a sound and it echoed through the empty recesses of my wounded spirit. It flowed harmoniously through this half empty Public School cafeteria and it started to revive my true sound, the sound I was created to make. It came from a mother and her three children, each individually packaged but collaboratively executed. The very first day I walked into that church, I didn’t know what to expect. I went because my family did and if I was going to live here, I needed to participate. Funny how things happen. On my second visit, I almost didn’t make it. I was out late the night before worshipping other spirits at a small bar in Kaneohe. Everyone had left, and I had two choices to make. Continue to sit there in my hangover or get up, get ready and walk. I did the latter and there was this weird feeling, an otherworldly presence walking me to church that morning. It felt like my grandmother, we had walked these dusty roads many times together growing up. It was comfortable. That was the day, the sound made a way in me and I found my place of worship. Towards the end of her set, I struggled standing with my arms wide open and as their melodies flowed over me something overwhelmed me and took me down. I started to find my real sound again. I lived a life like a tree in the desert for so long and now there was a feeling of “foundness”. I was found, but it wasn’t by people it was like flowing waters of life met me where I was, as I was and began to produce life again. I was no longer on my own, I was found, I was a part of something greater. My natural sound started to become super natural.
Creatures great and small find their sound according to nature and the roles they fulfill. Whales can send low frequencies that travel far across the open ocean and birds can change their sounds according to the season. As a human being, we also find our sound according to our nature- the sin nature. It sounds so evil, but we are shaped by the choices we make, in fact, we are also shaped by the choices our fathers made, our mothers, our neighbors, someone in another country, another time, another fruit. Everything we experience continues to mold the brass, or add the strings, enlarge the valves or hollow out the drum, creating our own sound. But we cannot maintain our sound on our own. We need direction, we need composure, we need breaks and we need collaboration. We were not created to serve in the church of self as a lone instrument. We are called to a great body, a great orchestra. We are called to harmonies, crescendos, tempos and rhythms that work in conjunction with the sound of others in unity.
The church is not a place, it is not a building- it is a living organism of varying sounds. It was the sounds I heard in my place of worship that reactivated a desire to work in harmony, as an ecosystem, an orchestra of divinely crafted instruments. See, the woman who leads our worship team and her children do not hoard their sound for the sake of self. They boldly share and give of it with the invitation of participation by those who hear it, so together, we can create a great movement of sound. A vibration that calls heaven down. We develop our sound over time and it is shaped by the struggle that an atmosphere of sin creates. We will stand alone in that sound, no matter how hard we try to mask it. We will feel good but bare no fruit. My sound was shaped by my struggles, by my choices, the choices of humanity, culture and societal pressures. But my sound was remade, it was recreated, it was made sustainable. My sound went from one that operated in the self, to one that operated in unity with others as one body. One orchestra.
I got to know my worship leader very well in the past year and a half. She was so close to shutting down many times before I stepped into that public school cafeteria, but she knew her sound. It makes an impact to this day not because of her talents but because of the struggle that shaped it and the God that refined it. If she gave in to rejection. If she gave in to fear. If she gave into self-consciousness. If she kept it for herself. If she gave into the opinions of others I would have never heard the sound I needed to hear that day. The sound that was shaped by this world, sanctified by a father and shared with an open invitation so that I could live again. But she held her position in the orchestra, the body of Christ, that is made of many colors, many languages, many denominations and many varying instruments. We are all called to bring a different sound to this world, not one person has the same. We can choose to let it serve ourselves and be cut off. It might be a painful sound, a mournful sound, an upbeat, fast paced sound, even a joyful sound but the moment we surrender ourselves to the one who made the ultimate sound, the sound that penetrates the ages, it becomes something new. It no longer works alone, of its own accord. It was created out of sin but it was refined by the fire for a purpose that glorifies the Grand Conductor. You were created to work in harmony, to establish a kingdom in a world of individuality. Play your part, no matter how small or great for each is grand in the eyes of God and serves a combined purpose. Only through Jesus, by a sound of surrender, can the nature of sin which shaped all our lives be overcome and made anew. May the sound I make, according to the role I play set a tone in you of everlasting change.